Monday, June 27, 2005

Securing our rights doesn't mean round-the-clock protection

The New York Post reports:

June 25, 2005 -- A Manhattan woman cannot sue the city for its failure to rein in a pack of vicious dogs that nearly killed her beloved pooch, a judge has ruled.

"It's discouraging and it's frustrating and it makes me want to yell and scream," Rebecca Skloot said of Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Walter Tolub's decision to throw out her petition. "I want the city to be held accountable for what happened to my dog."

A friend of Skloot's was walking her dog Bonny near the writer's Hell's Kitchen apartment in 2003 when "a pack of junkyard dogs" set upon the 35-pound border collie mix....

The 15-year-old needed 87 stitches and more than $7,000 in veterinary care.

[Skloot] said she called various city agencies "to prevent further attacks," but they told her "they did not handle 'dog-on-dog' complaints" and "each agency referred her to another city agency," the judge's decision says.

Skloot sought permission to file a late notice of claim — the first step in filing suit — earlier this year charging the city was negligent for failing to protect Bonny.

In a decision made public yesterday, Tolub sided with the city, finding her claim "patently meritless" because the city agencies had "no special duty" to protect her.
Being cynical, I suspect she had a good lawyer behind her, telling her how she could turn this into a minor windfall. That aside, while it's certainly unfortunate her dog was attacked, the judge was correct: government is not required to prevent it from happening. What must we do, hire sufficient animal control personnel to roam all over, picking up all potentially dangerous strays? Where does "government's responsibility" end? Heaven forfend I should ever hit a deer while driving, up here in forested Westchester. If it did happen, should I then sue my county for not keeping deer reined in?

The Declaration of Independence reminds us that government is instituted to secure our rights to life, liberty and property. That does not mean that government is an ever-watchful constable who prevents our rights from ever being infringed. It's economically and logistically impossible for government to act as a personal bodyguard, short of destroying the economy by employing a policeman for every square block.

The law and government cannot prevent our rights from being violated: they can only punish those who do. Police can deter crime to varying degrees, though not always. Hence deterrence is their secondary effect, their main purpose being the apprehension of criminals and suspects. It's a slippery slope when we start thinking that government must take measures to prevent any infringement of our rights, because that opens up the huge problem of liability: "Well, there should have been a policeman there." The tiniest slip-up, and it will eventually happen, leaves government more and more liable to a citizen who can blame government for "not doing enough." Yet it should be evident that government cannot anticipate, let alone control, every circumstance. Hayek taught us in "The Use of Knowlege in Society" that knowledge is also of time and place, not just scientific facts. Since it is dispersed throughout society, no government can hope to plan an economy better than a whole society. I add that it also cannot do enough to prevent crime better than individual citizens.

And after all, we, as individuals, have a much greater motivation to protect our own persons and property than anyone the state hires for that purpose. We also have a better window of time to defend ourselves. Consider this also: who is more watchful when part of government violates our rights, we or the rest of government? But there's a big problem when the state inhibits us in our self-defense...

My friend Charlie had that excellent point when we talked about this on the phone: how ironic that Ms. Skloot is prevented from fully defending herself and her dog. I concur: there is some blame to be laid upon the state, just not in how she claims. The same state that disclaims responsibility simultaneously prevents her and her friend from owning handguns, with which they could easily kill any wild dogs threatening them or their pets.

This falls back into the "prevention" notion. Government thinks that passing laws against certain things will reduce them, like gun control will make it harder for criminals to commit crimes. Then why are crimes using guns so much more prevalent in New York, D.C. and other cities with the stringent gun control laws, and extremely low in states like Utah that have far fewer gun restrictions? Moreover, it makes people less able to defend themselves from criminals, and more dependent on the state that disavows any responsibility of protecting them.


Blogger TKC said...

It is a nice catch-22. The government is supposed to protect us but when it inevitable fails to do so because it can't be every place at every time the fall back position is that the government can't protect you. Yet you're practically forbidden from protecting yourself or your property.

There used to be a day when shooting wild dogs just got a shrug and a nod. If you did it now, you'd probably face more serious charges than the 'owners' of the junkyard dogs. Sure, using a fire-arm inside of city can be dangerous so it does fall on the gun owner to show some restraint. But what if this had been a small child being attacked? There would be no doubt that shot should have been taken. But we are not allowed this. We are supposed to call 911, yet that is no guarantee of protection. You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.

Monday, June 27, 2005 3:44:00 PM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

Stupidly there is the occasional case of someone defending himself with a firearm, and the police arresting him for having an illegal or unlicensed weapon. You'd think the police could at least act happy that there's one less criminal on the streets!

There was a recent rape in the NYC subways. When this monster attacked a woman in the middle of the night, there were still two subway attendants on duty. But all they did was push a panic button and remain inside their offices.

Maybe you're a private citizen nearby and save the woman by putting a bullet in the perp's head. Yeah, and in NYC, you'd be the one going to jail, and the perp's family would sue you!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005 1:54:00 AM  

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